The prototypic acute-phase reactant C-reactive protein (CRP) has long been recognized as a useful marker and gauge of inflammation. CRP also plays an important role in host defense against invading pathogens as well as in inflammation. CRP consists of five identical subunits arranged as a cyclic pentamer. CRP exists in at least two conformationally distinct forms, i.e. native pentameric CRP (pCRP) and modified/monomeric CRP (mCRP). These isoforms bind to distinct receptors and lipid rafts, and exhibit distinct functional properties. Dissociation of pCRP into its subunits occurs within the inflammatory microenvironment and newly formed mCRP may then contribute to localizing the inflammatory response. Accumulating evidence indicates that pCRP possesses both pro- and anti-inflammatory actions in a context-dependent manner, whereas mCRP exerts potent pro-inflammatory actions on endothelial cells, endothelial progenitor cells, leukocytes and platelets, and thus may amplify inflammation. Here, we review recent advances that may explain how conformational changes in CRP contribute to shaping the inflammatory response and discuss CRP isomers as potential therapeutic targets to dampen inflammation.